Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Star Trek: Legacy Review

Star Trek: Legacy, developed by Mad Doc Software and published by Bethesda Softworks.
The Good: Lots of ships covering the entire Star Trek history, control multiple ships, authentic voice acting, decent campaign, multiplayer
The Not So Good: Laggy or unresponsive commands with an inadequate user interface, dull battles with too much turning and not enough explosions, shallow tactical combat, system hog, can’t save mid-mission, server browser is useless
What say you? Limited, buggy controls and superficial gameplay ruin a potentially interesting game: 4/8

There are two main kinds of sci-fi nerds: those who like Star Wars, and those that like Star Trek (those that like Stargate or Battlestar Galactica are technically dweebs). There have been numerous computer games spawned from each of these enterprises, some of them good and some of them not so good. With the ever-rising popularity of real time strategy games, gamers would like to experience what it feels like to pilot large ships in the future. Piloting famous ships would be even better, and that’s where Star Trek: Legacy comes in. There have been tactical Star Trek games before, but Star Trek: Legacy hopes to heap on the ships from all of the ages of Star Trek history in order to bury you in a big pile of Shatner.

It’s obvious that Star Trek: Legacy has had a large emphasis on good presentation, and it shows in the quality of the graphics and sound. As you expect in a game that centers around ship combat, Star Trek: Legacy features some very detailed ships: they appear just like their TV counterparts. The ships are set in a good-looking universe of nebulae and planets, and the lasers, photon torpedoes, and dynamic damage all are impressive. Of course, the graphics come at a price: the game doesn’t run smoothly at any resolution. There are other space games that look just as good, but run much more smoothly at generally the same settings. It seems that a little bit more time could have been spent optimizing the graphics in the game. The sound is also high-quality: the game features all the captains from the real TV shows to do voice acting in the game, although some seem more interested than others. The background music is also well done and fits the mood of the game well. The high production values of Star Trek: Legacy shine through, assuming you have the system to handle it (I can’t do it, captain; I just don’t have the power!).

Star Trek: Legacy is an action game with strategy elements where you can control up to four ships at a time and blow the crap out of other ships. The game’s main draw is the fact that it covers all 5 Star Trek television shows, including all of the ships (both friendly and not-as-friendly) from all of the eras of Trekdom. The main campaign is a linear set of missions that involve commanding the five flagships from each of the shows, starting with Dr. Sam Beckett. The campaign is pretty decent, and it allows you to purchase new ships between missions so fill out your fleet. There are also multiplayer games, both over the Internet and against the AI. These games are either death matches or against a wave of AI enemies. You would think that Star Trek would lend itself to some unique or at least innovating multiplayer modes, but I guess not. You can select teams, the era, fleet size, time limit, ship types, and whether respawns are allowed. You can control ships from the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, or the Borg. Star Trek: Legacy has a useless server browser that seems to only show games that are already in progress; finding a multiplayer match is exceedingly difficult.

At it’s heart, Star Trek: Legacy is an action game that replaced first person shooting with ships. You can control scouts, destroyers, cruisers, or battleships, each of which exchange maneuverability for firepower in a linear relationship. The game was obviously designed for the consoles, as Star Trek: Legacy does not take full advantage of the PC. The user interface is almost non-existent, replacing clear indicators of weapon arcs and ranges with confusing targeting icons. The only real strategy in the game is positioning: putting your weapons in place to fire. The game makes no indication of your ships’ weapon arcs, even though they are very important. You will have to guess which directions your phasers and photon torpedoes can fire. In an effort to streamline the interface for the consoles, the developers have removed almost every useful tidbit of information that’s been present in other tactical games the past 15 years. This insanity permeates to the most important aspect of any computer game: user input. Star Trek: Legacy has so many bugs related to the basic control of your ships that the game is essentially unplayable. Even when locked on, your primary and secondary weapons only fire about half of the time when you click the appropriate mouse buttons. The throttle, controlled by the mouse wheel, rarely responds. Targeting enemy ships is cumbersome (you need to hold down spacebar, and even then a list only appears for a short amount of time) and interacting with any other object in space is done by holding down one key. Whose bright idea was it to bind every interaction command to one key? And when the command rose appears, the mouse does not respond. Non-responsive controls? Brilliant! This means it is impossible to complete the first mission in the game, since you have to select a friendly unit within a time limit. It’s nice to see that the game was extensively tested on the PC prior to release. I can’t imagine a game this flawed being released by a major publisher, but apparently I was horribly, horribly wrong. Even if the game does work, the gameplay is very shallow and devoid of almost any real strategy: turn, turn, turn, shoot, turn, turn, shoot. This may cut it on the consoles, but not on the PC. Since a lot of the ships in the game have the same turning radii, the game devolves into an endless turning match, and you’ll never be able to catch up to the enemy ship. The AI seems especially adept at frustrating you, always staying just far enough ahead where you can’t get a clear shot in. Because they had to dumb down Star Trek: Legacy for the consoles, the game on the PC is a complete mess.

Star Trek: Legacy is so buggy and frustrating that it’s not worth playing. So what if the game features ships from every Star Trek show; it doesn’t matter if the gameplay stinks. I much prefer the seven-year-old Starfleet Command to this game: it actually had a usable interface for the PC and deep gameplay. It’s pretty sad that Star Trek games have taken a step backwards in terms of usability. Star Trek: Legacy tries to sell you on its flashy graphics and grand scope, but the game is so buggy and strategically trivial that it’s not worth playing. This is too bad, since I could really go for a good Star Trek game. The campaign is somewhat interesting, but the fact that you can’t save your progress mid-mission is a concern, especially since it’s extraordinarily difficult to get the game into a usable condition. Star Trek: Legacy is a system hog, it has unresponsive controls, and it has idiotic gameplay: what more do you need to know? Star Trek: Legacy can boldly go where no man has gone before: straight into the garbage can.